Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 7, 1962
NUMBER 6, PAGE 5,13b-14a

Is There A Divinely Given Sequence For The Items Of Worship?

Jimmy Tuten, Jr.

Sometime during the months prior to 1836, F. W. Emmons wrote an article which appeared in The Christian Preacher, a periodical edited by D. S. Burnet of Cincinnati. It made its appearance in 1837 under the heading: "A Discourse on The Ancient Order of Things in The Public Worship of The Christian Congregation." A few years later, with slight variations, it appeared in print again. This writing arrested the attention of a number of teachers and preachers; some concurring with brother Emmons and others dissenting from him. Alexander Campbell reviewed Emmons' position in the Millennial Harbinger (June 1838) and thus expressed his disagreement with this position on "order." In 1848 brother Campbell wrote again on the subject and this composition appeared in The Christian (Vol. 4, pp. 136139). The most lengthy review of Emmons' stand appeared in the Millennial Harbinger in 1837 (Vol. 7, pp. 279ff). This review was penned by R. R. Richardson.

The position of Emmons is kept alive and advocated by some in this present generation. Particularly is this true of a monthly publication called The Truth, edited by Bro. J. D. Phillips of Austin, Texas. As recently as November, 1961, there appeared in this publication, an article bearing the title, "Acts 2:42, with Comments by Mosheim." J. D. Phillips has also published a booklet (107 pages) bearing the title, "Order: The Commission and The Items of Worship." It was compiled for the purpose of upholding this position under discussion.

The subject was first called to my attention by a faithful member of the church with whom I labor. A study of the position on Acts 2:42 has meant much to me, and I am sure that others will profit from this material since the subject relates to an integral part of the Christian's life. With humbleness, I offer the following thoughts and comments.

The Position Stated

Reasoning from the standpoint of "order" as being "heaven's first law," 1 Corinthians 14:33 and verse 40 are applied to embrace the arrangement of things done in the order of first, second, third, etc. After showing the importance of order in general, an application is made to the creation. From this an analogy is drawn between the physical and the spiritual realm, or between natural light and spiritual light. Jesus is the true light and man must abide in this light. (Jno. 1:4-9; 1 Jno. 1:5-7; 2:8-10) He does this by walking in the precepts of God. (2 Pet. 1:19) It is then pointed out that the "sure word of prophesy" was the only foundation for the faith and practice of the first Christians. The Word then, had to come before faith. (Rom. 10:17) The argument then proceeds to show that the origin of the position "that there is no rule or law" in the realm of the plan of salvation or IN WORSHIP has resulted in a number of departures from the Word. The false conclusion that "the particular forms of divine worship, and the rites and ceremonies appointed to be used therein, being things in their own nature indifferent and alterable" is stressed as being the cause of many departures in worship. This is absurd, therefore it is concluded that there must be a "rule or law which designates a particular day, exercises and the order of exercises for that day's observance." This reasoning is applied to Acts 2:42, and the sequence of the items mentioned are bound in the precise order in which they are found. Brother Emmons took the position that each group of Christians meeting on the Lord's Day for worship must follow this sequence, i.e., first teaching, then fellowship, breaking of bread and then prayers. It was concluded that any departure from this was disorder. This whole position rests on this one verse.

In order to clear any misunderstandings regarding the sequence of the items found in Acts 2:42, in and of themselves, we offer the following quotation:

"We do not object particularly to the order itself: on the contrary, we could agree that such an arrangement of the exercises would be very proper, and perhaps as good as any other. But we object to the doctrine that this precise order is positively established by divine authority." (R. Richardson: Millennial Harbinger, Vol. 7, p. 295.)

Campbell And Emmons

J. D. Phillips, in his booklet to which we have already referred, leaves the impression that there is agreement, at least to some extent, between the position of Emmons and Campbell. For example, in the preface he says: "The close student of Campbell's writings will be struck with the similarity of the Emmons' articles to those on the same subject by Campbell...." It is not understood whether Phillips had reference to Campbell's articles on "order in worship" or "order in the commission." From the context it appears that he has reference to both subjects. The student of the writings of these authors will indeed note an agreement in their positions on the need of order, but there is absolutely no agreement between them with reference to Emmons' position on Acts 2:42. In October, 1835, Campbell published a series of articles on "order" and in these he fully defined his terms. He says:

"Order, fully defined, is not simply method, nor simply arrangement, though sometimes so used; but arrangement with reference to design. It is RATIONAL ARRANGEMENT. That arrangement may be RATIONAL, there must be some end in view; and the arrangement must be made in reference to that precise object: therefore, the best order is only another name for the most rational arrangement.... So the best order is the most direct arrangement to secure any proposed end." (Millennial Harbinger, Vol. 6, p. 484.)

Writing In The Christian, Campbell Says:

"But that there are certain social acts of Christian worship, all of which are to be attended to in the Christian assembly, and each of which is essential to the perfect man — is that which we wish to convey by the phrase 'order of Christian worship'." (May, 1848, Vol. 4, p. 136.)

Campbell believed that "everything was done according to a divine pattern, which was itself an image of the perfect order of the Supreme Intelligence." He stressed that there must be "good order" and decency. He believed these things, i.e., the items of worship, were to be attended to with reverence and "perfect order." No one will deny that he believed in order. However, by order, Campbell meant "that all ordinances shall be solemnly attended to." He did not believe that the sequence of the items of Acts 2:42 must follow in that precise order by the assemblies of the saints in all times and places. Let us notice another statement from the pen of Campbell:

'But at what hour of the day, and in what sort of a house, and how often on the Lord's day the church should assemble; and whether she should first pray, sing, or read the living oracles: and at what period of her worship she should do this, or that, are matters left to the discretion of the brotherhood?' (Millennial Harbinger, Vol. 6, p. 509.)

While Writing In The Harbinger In The Year 1838, He Says:

"Our beloved brother Emmons is a great lover of good order, and is precise in all points to a scruple; and therefore an effort for a perfect system of order comes as naturally from him as light from the sun. It may be our misfortune, but so it is, that we may acknowledge it candidly, never to have had a single prepossession or conviction in favor of this arrangement....I must dissent from him. I have no evidence whatever of the truth, reason, or authority of such an arrangement, and regard all that I have read from him on Acts 2:42, as wholly illogical, inconclusive, and unsatisfactory."

In view of this, whatever similarity existed between the writings of Campbell and Emmons cannot be construed to mean that there was a shade of similarity in their position on Acts 2:42. We repeat, Campbell had strong conviction of a "divinely authorized order of Christian worship in Christian assemblies" and that "none but the Lord could prescribe or regulate" that order. When these ordinances were attended to in the assemblies of the saints, worship was uniform and in order. This order must continue if our worship is to be pleasing to the God of heaven.

In our next article we shall give attention to the answers and objections offered to Emmons' position.

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